Wednesday, February 24, 2016

[un]Common Sense

Hola mi Gente,
I am busy preparing a presentation for an organization and writing piece that may be published on an internet site. So, here’s something that spurred me several years ago to write a blog.

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[un]Common Sense

Wisdom consists in rising superior both to madness and to common sense, and in lending oneself to the universal delusion without becoming its dupe.
-- Henri Frédéric Amiel (1821–1881)

This should have been my first blog post. With the exception of being largely absent for about two-three years, I’ve been posting on this blog for some years. But when I first began something else always came up: some issue or topic I perceived as more important. The result being that I’ve never finished nor posted this blog’s raison d’être. Question, have any of here noticed the blog’s title – “[un]Common Sense”?

Maybe we can start there… if this is the “[un]Common Sense Blog,” then what is its opposite, common sense?

On January 10, 1776, an English immigrant published a pamphlet urging American colonists to question their assumption about something everybody took for granted n that era: the divine right of the monarchy. According to published reports of the day, many committed Royalists (those who favored the monarchy) were converted by a single reading of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Paine’s argument must have been powerful: half a million copies were sold over the next year. Think about this for a moment: the population of the colonies at the time was probably just over 2 million; this man’s pamphlet sold a half a million in one year! And it was not an Oprah Winfrey Book Club pick.

Because Paine donated the royalties from his two-shilling pamphlet to the revolution, the United States Congress granted him a small pension and a farm in upstate New York after the war. Yet only a few years later, Paine was branded a traitor for attempting to further expand the meaning of democracy (remember, initially, the land of the free was only free for white, propertied men). Ahhhh… the fickle fate of celebrity: one moment the “father of reason,” the next, an outcast. The more things change the more they seem to stay the same (or go through a spiral dialectic. LOL)… 

So, what is this thing called common sense? We hear people say it all the time: “Common sense should’ve told her… ” as a response to what we perceive as idiotic behavior, for example, but it eludes definition. The term implies that there is a body of information (“sense”) somewhere that everyone (“common”) knows, but we all would agree that common sense is as rare as an original thought in our current Donald Trump’s head.

We like to speak of common sense as if it were something immutable -- something that never changes, something static. However, common sense evolves all the time. For example, 18th and 19th century Europeans considered bathing unhealthy (perhaps this is why Native Americans could “see” them coming a mile away?).

Common sense, right?

Another example of common sense: tomatoes were considered poisonous until the 18th century when an intrepid soul ate one on the courthouse steps in Salem, New Jersey (he probably bathed regularly too).

The upshot being that common sense has more to do with the common part than with the sense part. As seen in the case of the Royalists of colonist America, common sense is often a mass of unquestioned assumptions dictated by culture and sub-cultures, than by reason.

Still, the prevalent question of the day seems to be, “What ever happened to common sense?” It’s more often than not a rhetorical question, not needing an answer -- it’s more of a complaint. We sense that something is missing. Maybe we can say that common sense is a way of being rather than a body of knowledge. We say someone has common sense when they possess an attitude, not simply thoughts or knowledge, but an ability to think creatively and with purpose. Perhaps, as author Marilyn Ferguson noted, common sense is not what we know but how we know it.

Which brings us back to this blog… but I must first digress yet again. In Emile Zola’s Beast of Man, an engineer and a fireman are quarrelling in the locomotive of a passenger train. In his rage, the fireman has stoked the engine’s fire into an inferno. They grapple at each other’s throats, each trying to force the other through the open door. Losing their balance, both fall out and perish. The train rumbles on at breakneck speed. The passengers, soldiers en route to the war front, are sleeping or drunkenly unaware of the impending disaster.

Zola’s story has been seen as a parable of modern runaway societies. Those supposedly in charge, embroiled in their own personal dramas, paralyzed with performance anxiety, or caught up in their ambitions, have left the driver’s seat. Meanwhile we, their oblivious passengers, are about to pay the price.

Unless we wake up… and perhaps it is here where we can begin to find our innate [un]common sense as a social movement, rather than a body of knowledge (to be continued).

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization… 

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[un]Common Sense